Climate Change Adaptation

I read a peripherally related blog post on a book about experiencing local climate change and that set me thinking a bit.

One of the book’s biggest ideas is simply to emphasize what Seidl calls “true-to-life actions” (p.82), actions that discourage one’s habit of living without engagement with the people and the nonhuman around us, individually and in communities

I like this sentiment a lot, and agree wholeheartedly. The book (I haven’t read it) appears to talk about local ecosystem adaptation, which got me thinking about adaptation in general. When we talk about climate change adaptation, we need to be very specific on who/what can/will adapt, and what community engagement will entail. Of course, I believe mitigation, or minimisng the causes comes first, but this post is primarily about adaptation.

Species will adapt, so will ecosystems, and so will many humans. The Earth will, as well. It will just be a different world. Those of us living in affluent countries will feel the pain peripherally and will have enough buffer to change our ways of life. Some of us may even find ways to profit.

Now some investors are taking another approach. Working under the assumption that climate change is inevitable, they’re investing in businesses that will profit as the planet gets hotter. Their strategies include buying water treatment companies, brokering deals for Australian farmland…

Climate Change Vulnerability by region: White means low vulnerability (Ha!) – via http://www.careclimatechange.org/

Adaptation is not a choice for the majority of humans on this planet that live in poor, coastal and vulnerable areas. They do not have the money to adapt, the effects on their ecosystems are bigger and faster, and we will not let them move to safer countries like Canada. They will lose land, resource, and when they have to fight to survive, their wars will be treated as caused by their virtue or ethnicity rather than being caused by our past and present consumption. Much of the resources that could mitigate effects may already be controlled by those who can profit from the resources. 

Humans will have to adapt, and use any and all strategies, but there’s no “we” in climate change adaptation, there’s the vulnerable and the not-so vulnerable. So, it is insufficient to only think locally. We aren’t the first humans who will be forced to move because of abrupt climate change. But those needing to move this time will face closed borders and hostile states. We have seen time and again, resource stress increases racism and xenophobia, and decreases trust.

What can affluent states do? For starters.

  1. Decarbonize. WIth intention, haste and unilaterally. 
  2. Help less affluent countries increase wealth, quickly.
  3. Help less affluent countries decarbonize, if less quickly because 2 is more important.
  4. Think long and hard about their borders, because current projections call for millions of environmental migrants.

We are, of course seeing the opposite. Carbon infrastructure in US and Canada is being expanded. Resources in less affluent countries are being developed for the use of the affluent (not always from affluent states). Trade wars being fought to protect affluent interests over cheap expansion of non-carbon infrastructure. Of course, race-based immigration policy, while not officially stated as such any more, is still operational.

We have a long way to go as a species to help everyone adapt to climate change. Humans are generally in a better place to take the necessary steps than we’ve been in the past, but the work should have started 20 years ago.

 

Enbridge in the Toronto Subway

Enbridge Toronto Spin

Yes, Enbridge does use the word “spin” here in connection with green washing.

I was in Toronto recently on this walkway between subway stations when I chanced upon a whole row of Enbridge billboards that were (I assume) supposed to give viewers the fuzzy-wuzzies about Enbridge and Natural Gas. There were at least 7-8 of these billboards in a row, but this was my favourite by far. I guess the ad producers don’t really care about having Enbridge associated with spin and green washing

Are there Vogons on Canada’s National Energy Board?

I did not know whether to laugh or cry when I read this morning of the new rules put in place to “help” Canada’s residents voice their concerns on the numerous pipeline projects that are to be built to ship diluted bitumen out of Alberta. The rules arise from the Omnibus “Budget” bill passed in 2012 that “streamlined” environmental assessments.

Ordinary Canadians who want to participate at the NEB hearings, or even write a letter to offer their thoughts, must first print the application form that was made available online on Friday, answer 10 pages of questions, then file it with both the NEB and Enbridge. And they must do so by April 19.The NEB also encourages those wishing to make submissions to include résumés and references. Only after an application is approved will the board accept a letter

via Energy board changes pipeline complaint rules – The Globe and Mail.

Sounds familiar?

Mr Prosser said: “You were quite entitled to make any suggestions or protests at the appropriate time you know.”

<snip>

“But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.”

<snip>

“But the plans were on display…”

“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”

“That’s the display department.”

“With a torch.”

“Ah, well the lights had probably gone.”

“So had the stairs.”

“But look, you found the notice didn’t you?”

“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.”

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Just a note that the Vogons gave us nine months notice to demolish earth and did not ask for a 10 page application, résumés, references and first born (one of these is not a requirement).

vogon

Picture of Vogon from Tim Ellis’ Flickr stream used under a Creative Commons Licence

Religion

A friend’s post on facebook triggered some thoughts on religion, so I expanded my comment (not science/policy related, so feel free to glaze over).

I grew up Hindu, or shall we say, Tamil Brahmin. In India, each community’s practice of Hinduism is very different, informed by place, caste, class and more, so calling yourself a Hindu is not very illuminating. I went to the temples with my parents, and felt a connection with something (in hindsight, it was the architecture, grandeur more than Ganapathy) I prayed (after a fashion), more for specific things like “Oh god, let me do well in this test” rather than anything. I participated in the ritual and festivals, like any good kid. All this ritualistic practice aside, my single greatest spiritual memory as a young adult (and to this day) is a 5 minute meditation experience I had with my uncle sitting in a simple Ramakrishna Mission hall. I remember losing connection with my usually racing brain and reaching what I perceived as a meaningful connection with God, but what I would now associate with a particularly successful mindfulness practice. I still haven’t quite achieved that sense of “levitation” since.

I remember being about 15, going to a really crowded temple (I think it was this one) and jostling with thousands of other people to get a fleeting glimpse of a stone (or gold plated? super rich temple!) idol, I lost my faith in one moment (at least, that’s how I perceive it). I persisted in going to temples and participating in ritual for a bit, hell, even going back to the same temple a couple of years later, but there was nothing there.

ganapathyInto my late teens and twenties, I tuned much more into the powers of organized religion to oppress, deny freedom and restrict behaviour. At that age, I perceived the community around me using religion (in hindsight, it’s much more complicated) to restrict my activities and censure them (oh privileged male!). I was very likely to lump the people with their religion. I did not believe religion to be a force of anything other than restriction and censure, and I judged the people around me who still practiced their religion in spite of “ought to know better”. I very plainly refused to practice any rituals, or go to temples. Leaving India helped as well, since I had no community pressure to practice anything.

Those years were ritual free (after a fashion), and I would call myself a primarily analytical person, using logic to solve problems (oh, so simple!). But, I did find ritual missing in my life. Into my thirties, I sub-consciously (at first) started to incorporate some ritualistic practices like morning coffee, regular gym workouts, and many other time based ritual activities as a substitute. My health and well-being definitely improved, though you could say the fact that I chose gym workouts as a ritual rather than bar hopping did not hurt! But, that’s really the point of ritual, isn’t it, to find the ones that centre you?

As I grow older, I am less militantly anti-religious and more likely to incorporate yoga, mindfulness, meditation and other behaviours that could be associated with spirituality into my life. But I see them as healthy behaviours, almost like exercise rather than connecting me to something greater. I went through a phase wishing I could believe in a god again, it would be a lot easier than having to figure it out for yourself, but that passed. I am still as atheist as I’ve ever been, just a lot more tolerant of other people’s paths and processes. I understand that everyone’s well being depends on connection, whether it is social, or spiritual or physical. If their practice of “religion” or their belief helps them achieve that connection, that’s just lovely (The last few times I’ve visited India, I’ve even let my parents drag me on temple excursions!) That is, as long as they do not end up supporting oppressive homophobic, racist or misogynist behaviour based on religion. I still believe that most organized religion is a tool of patriarchy and control, and cynically uses people’s need for connection to achieve political power and money, so no support there.

 

Some dal notes

You make a dal by cooking a lentil/mix of lentils and seasoning it with a mix of spices (or tadkas). So, the possibilities are endless. Some quick notes

Lentils

  • Use any lentils you’d like. I’ve used Toor dal, which is a kind of yellow split lentils, moong dal, both split (yellow) and unsplit (green), red lentils (masoor), black eye peas, it does not matter. They all have a distinct taste and tend to pair with different kinds of spices.
  • Use whole (with skin) lentils if you want more texture and nutrition. They will take a little longer to cook. If you do not have a pressure cooker, you may have to soak in warm water for a few hours before cooking.
  • Use split and skinned lentils for a more soupy, creamy consistency. They tend to cook faster
  • I have always owned a pressure cooker, so I do not know how long it takes to cook lentils without one, I guess it depends on the lentils. In general, simmer covered until soft is the rule, I guess (I’ve never had to do it!). But, a pressure cooker is a great thing to have if you will eat lentils a lot.
  • Using a mixture of one faster cooking and one slower cooking lentil will give you lots of texture, good if you’re looking for almost a one course meal.
  • Adding fresh spinach, or kale, or any other fast cooking green is a good way to use up old greens.
  • Feel free to add vegetables as necessary, it’s your dal!
  • Tomatoes are useful for providing some tartness. I put tomatoes in almost every dal I make.

Spices

  • Depends on how intense you want the dal to be. In most meals, the dal is a complement, and is not meant to overwhelm the flavours of the other dishes. In this case, go easy on the spices. If you’re looking for a one course meal and a hearty one, make your dal nice and spicy. It all depends!
  • Most whole spices keep for a long time if well covered.
  • I rarely use powdered spices in dal unless I’m going for an especially unsubtle dal.

Cooking tips

  • Using fresh green/red chillies usually provides enough “hot” spice. Use them whole/slitted for a subtle flavour and chopped fine and sauted for a bigger bite. I use thai green/red chillies, they’re usually more predictable. You will not need more than 2-3 for 1 cup of uncooked dal. Chillies are usually the first “wet” ingredient added, as you need some oil to release the spice and if there are too many other ingredients present, they will not pick up enough heat.
  • Cilantro – Some like it, some don’t. I don’t think it adds much in taste, but it sure as hell improves the visual appearance. Always chop fine, some of the juices should come out when you chop. This avoids that dreaded “soapy” texture. Add at the end.
  • You can also use the green tips of green onions to provide some colour.

Some classic combinations

  • Yellow lentils with ginger, garlic, chillies, lime, tomato and cumin.
  • This is a good complementary dal, goes great with rice or chapatis and home style fried potatos, or pretty much any vegetable dish with a bit of flavour. The dal itself will not have too many aromatic flavours.

Serves 4

Yellow lentils (toor dal or similar – 1 cup)
Ginger – a 1-2 inch piece grated
Garlic, a few cloves – chopped fine, minced or pressed.
Cumin seeds, a couple of tea spoons
Tomatoes – Enough to provide the dal with nice texture. Do not chop fine, halves or quarters work better.

  • Cook the yellow lentils until soft, mash coarsely. Texture is a very personal thing. I prefer a dal where there is enough fine particles to make a stable suspension gravy, but enough coarseness so it is not baby food consistency. You get to pick! Same with the amount of water, you pick. Most lentils will absorb water as they cool and thicken, so you’ll need to add more next time you eat it any way.
  • To a warm pot, add a few teaspoons of oil, once the oil is warm (never needs to get too hot here as you’ll be adding all the ingredients quickly) and you don’t want anything to be over done), add the cumin seeds and let them fry for a bt till you can smell the oils releasing and the cumin changes colour.
  • Add 2-3 slitted green chillies to the oil, and let the oil release some of the chilli goodness.
  • Add the garlic and ginger, let them cook for about a minute or so. If you’re partial to one or the other, mix and match them up as you see fit. A warning, too much ginger will make the dal bitter.
  • Add the tomatoes, cook till they soften up a little bit and the skin is starting to separate from the body
  • Add the lentils, mix in, don’t break up the tomato too much, you want enough tomato gravy for the flavour, but you also want large bits to chew on.
  • Add water, salt to taste and bring to a boil, turn off.
  • Season with cilantro
  • Add lemon juice to taste. I like it lemony, some people only want a hint.

A Hearty, bold Dal

This one’s a meal. I made one for a potluck the other day with blackeyed peas and a kidney bean type lentil that was quite loaded!

  • 1 cup dry blackeyed peas (or 2 cups canned), half a cup of any other slower cooking lentil. Note, if you don’t want to cook the lentils together (especially if you don’t know what will cook when), just cook them separately. Cook the blackeyed peas to a mashable consistency and the other to a chewy, but not mashable (think chickpeas in chickpea salad) consistency.
  • One medium sized onion, chopped fine
  • As much ginger or garlic as you need. The usual amount for a 4 serving meal is about a 2 inch piece of ginger and 3 cloves of garlic.
  • 2-3 green chillies, red chillies, chooped fine, or just use red chili powder to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon of coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin powder

(note – this is considered one of those classic ratios in North Indian cooking, the 3:1 coriander:cumin, don’t know why, but it works, so I don’t mess with it).

  • Garam Masala, or any aromatic spice mix. I sometimes put in some ras el hanout, ) to give it an extra aromatic kick, very optional, your dal will just taste different, not better or worse!
  • A couple of medium sized tomatoes, quartered. I usually use a juicy tomato (roma, etc), not a sandwich type (beefsteak).

Directions

  • To a warm pot, add a few teaspoons of oil, medium heat. Once the oil is ready, add the chopped chillies, fry for about 10 seconds or so (feel the sizzle!), then add the onions and saute until transluscent.
  • Add the ginger and garlic, saute for another minute or so (you’ll smell it when it’s done!).
  • Reduce the heat and add the dry spices, cumin powder, coriander powder (and chilli powder if you did not use the chillies in the beginning).
  • Immediately add the tomatoes and cook till a little tender (skin separation is always a good sign).
  • Add the lentils, mix in, don’t break up the tomato too much, you want enough tomato gravy for the flavour, but you also want large bits to chew on.
  • Add water, salt to taste and bring to a boil, add the aromatic spice mix (optional) and turn off.
  • Season with cilantro or green onions. As always, feel free to add greens, or soupy vegetables for more texture.

Better Place electric car experiment not in good place

You may have heard of Shai Agassi and Better Place (link’s to a TED talk, so you know he was important!), the car company that was going to revolutionize electric cars by separating the battery infrastructure from the car and setting up a number of battery swap stations. The goal was to remove “range anxiety” as batteries could be swapped out in 5 minutes or less. Their first experiment was in Israel and it appears to have not worked.

Why a Promising Electric Car Startup Failed – Yale E News

But such rosy projections never came close to materializing. One of the unexpected things to go wrong was that the company didn’t get much help from Israel. Although Shimon Peres, the former Israeli president, was an enthusiastic Better Place supporter, Israel — unlike the U.S. — provides no subsidies to EVs. Local authorities, whose permission was needed to build battery-switching stations, put up unexpected roadblocks

Not surprised one bit. System change requires institutional support.The status quo bias in favour of the current infrastructure is massive. Gasoline cars work well for people who drive cars, regardless of the expense, which is incremental, hence easily disregarded, or pollution concerns, which are unseen and to which people only have shallow affinities for. People don’t like uncertainty or novelty in routine. If we want to produce less pollution in travel, electric cars cannot just be plugged in to the current infrastructure. This quote from David Roberts of the Grist explains it well:

Lurking in the background is the notion that the “promise of electric cars” is false until an electric car can plop down in America’s current transportation system and do everything an internal-combustion-engine car can do. <snip> The problem, however, is not merely that our cars consume too much oil. It’s that our transportation system consumes too much oil. A better system won’t merely involve better cars, it will involve driving less, telecommuting more, using more public transportation, sharing cars, making cars smarter, and building more and better electrical infrastructure.

betterplace

The current infrastructure was built with sustained government support over decades and is propped up by trillions of dollars in taxes, subsidies to fossil fuel industry and such. It works for the people using it, if not for life on this planet in the long term. If I was driving, if my commute is 20 minutes, an electric car will still only take 20 minutes. If you’re stuck in traffic in a hellish commute, an electric car doesn’t help you at all. An electric car would save some money in the long run, but  no individual or market is going to build me a charging station in my apartment or workplace, or set up a range of battery swappers from scratch. 

Building a sustainable infrastructure is not something a market can do, or is designed to do. It will be up to us to visualize where we want to go, and spend the money, time and effort needed to make it happen. We are also up against a large and well established system that does not really want this change to happen, and has spent decades eroding trust in the institutions that would have to make this change happen.

Looking forward

What needs to happen for electric cars to be a small part of the solution? The larger part involves system change to reduce daily transport needs, de-emphasize private transport and encourage bike, bus train and walk. For cars to be a part of the solution:

  1. Governments/communities will need to build millions of charging stations (no, markets will not make this happen magically)
  2. Regulations must force electric car companies to provide standard battery replacement systems (imagine a different battery compartment for each battery operated appliance you own!)
  3. Gas stations may need to be retrofitted and eventually replaced with battery swap stations for longer distance private travel.
  4. We need to fund research in better electricity storage and continuous charging using existing road infrastructure.
  5. Money? The true social cost of carbon could be $250 a ton, BC’s carbon tax is at $30 a ton, clearly we are all free-riding. Carbon taxes, financial transaction fees, taxing the rich and more need to happen.

Are our governments and institutions up to this massive task?

Climate change infographic

This infographic came my way via Learnstuff and it looked interesting. I have a love-hate relationship with infographics and this one evokes the same feelings of “I really appreciate the effort someone put into this and it looks great” vs. “how is this going to influence our policy makers, or create the intensity (read this link, it’s really good stuff by David Roberts of Grist) that is required to foster the system change we need”?

Climate-Change

Open Data: Let’s talk about more than just government

Victoria is hosting its open data day and Hackathon Saturday the 23rd (Facebook Link). I plan on being there because I support openness and transparency, I’d like to learn more about available data sets, and hangout with like-minded people. The City of Victoria has taken steps since 2011 through Councillor Marianne Alto‘s initiatives and more to facilitate more open governance. Like any other government entity, there is valid criticism and issues to navigate, but stated goals exist and progress can be tracked and critiqued.

Enough people talk about open government data, and there’s consensus that governments should be more collaborative, open and participatory. But most of us spend more time and money interacting with non-government entities than we do with government entities. Look at your monthly budget. You will spend 30-40 percent on your mortgage or rent, goes to a non-government entity. The next biggest line items, probably groceries, car payments are all to private entities. Should we as consumers not expect the same open data sharing standards from our private entities as we do from government? The book Open Government, released for free by Safari books after Aaron Swartz’s death (does not appear to be free any more) has one chapter by Archon Fung and David Weil titled Open government and Open Society, which outlined my concerns very well:

Enthusiasts of transparency, which most readers of this book are, should be aware of two major pitfalls that may mar this achievement. The first is that government transparency, though driven by progressive impulses, may draw excessive attention to government’s mistakes and so have the consequence of reinforcing a conservative image of government as incompetent and corrupt. The second is that all this energy devoted to making open government comes at the expense of leaving the operations of large private sector organizations—banks, manufacturers, health providers, food producers, drug companies, and the like—opaque and secret. In the major industrialized democracies (but not in many developing countries or in authoritarian regimes), these private sector organizations threaten the health and well-being of citizens at least as much as government.

Open Government – Chapter 8 – Open Government and Open Society – Fung and Weil

I wrote briefly about one aspect of open data in our private interactions, shopping receipts. We spend a lot of time, effort and money shopping, yet we’re very unlikely to leverage the power of data to help us shop better because our individual decisions are captured in paper receipts. But there are many more examples.

  1. Mortgages – Do you have to go to every bank/lender’s website to do a comparison? Ratehub is a start, is there an API or download capabilities?
  2. Real Estate Data – Realtors control real estate data in Canada, I would call this a major conflict of interest. There are efforts to open this data up a la the US, but slow going. This is the biggest market transaction any of us will undertake in our lives, but information is controlled by the agency that benefits most from our lack of knowledge.
  3. Rentals – Craigslist is notorious for hoarding data and going after people who want to present data in more useful formats. Community posted information is created by the community, but captured by private entities due to network effects (everyone’s on craiglist, so I need to be there too, regardless of their data policies).
  4. Insurance markets – Government provided insurance information (ICBC – Car, MSP – health) is transparent. Try getting insurance in the open market for condos, homes and more, you’ll find the same pdf/paper quote formats that make it difficult to compare and choose wisely.
  5. Corporate governance – There is so much information missing on actual corporate structures, ownership, directorship, brand ownership and lobbying
  6. Pollution and resource use. Do we have a good idea what companies pay for water or power? Do we have a way of understanding who pollutes what and where?

My goal on open data is to advocate for openness in all of society, not just in government. Also, just because data is available does not mean it is open. APIs and download capabilities are key.

So, when you think open data, do try and shift your gaze away from government occasionally. Remember that your housing decision is much more critical than the salary information for the assistant city manager, so openness is vital everywhere.

cart

 

Update: as Kevin pointed out on twitter, the federal tax bill is pretty big. I was talking more in terms of the municipal parts like property taxes. The point nevertheless stands, we pay private entities large sums of money under poor data transparency conditions.